In the traditional press conference on the return flight from the World Youth Day celebrations in Panama, Pope Francis discussed a number of topics, one of which was the next major event on the Church’s calendar: next month’s summit on sexual abuse of minor in the Church, in which the presidents of the bishops’ conference of the world, the heads of the Eastern Catholic Churches, the prefects of a number of dicasteries and representatives of the leadership of religious orders and societies will take part.
The main purpose of the summit is not the eradication of sexual abuse anywhere, the Pope explained:
“I would like to say that I felt a little bit of an inflated expectation. You have to deflate the expectations. Because the problem of abuse will continue, it is a human problem, and is everywhere. I read a statistic the other day, 50% is reported, 20% is listened to and it ended with 5% is condemned, That’s terrible. It is a human drama and we must become aware of it. We too, by resolving the problem in the Church, but becoming aware of it, will help to resolve it in society, in families where shame covers everything. But first we must become aware, have the protocols and move forward”. [Translation by Vatican Insider]
This awareness is what the summit will try to achieve. The Council of Cardinals, until recently the C9, spawned the idea for the summit, as they saw that “some bishops did not understand well or did not know what to do or did one good thing and another one wrong, and we felt the responsibility to give a “catechesis” on this problem to the episcopal conferences. That is why the presidents are called.”
The bishops across the world, Pope Francis continued, must first be made aware of what the problem is. Many do, but still not all. Then they must know what they can and must do: the bishop in his own diocese, the metropolitan archbishop in the Church province, the episcopal conference as a body…
Will the abuse summit come with a general solution to the scourge of abuse of minors (and adults too) in the Catholic Church? No. It will, however, take what has already been done over the past decade or so and try to make sure that those measures, decisions and protocols are understood and used everywhere. It is one thing to make a general rule about, say, reporting abuse cases to the police, another to implement it. This summit will hopefully make it impossible for any bishop to say that he did not know what to do when confronted with an abusive priest or lay person, alive or deceased.
There are some who expect the Vatican to take responsibility, to enforce rules, to unceremoniously fire bishops who failed in reporting abuse, and that sentiment is understandable. Individual dioceses and bishops have taken responsibility, but many feel that the world Church as a body has not yet, or not enough. They cite the case of former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and what Cardinal Donald Wuerl did or did not know, to name but one example. It remains to be seen if the summit will lead to quicker and more decisive responses to such cases, although, of course, the due process of finding indisputable proof, rather than the ventilation of opinions and gut feelings via social media, must always be respected.
Photo credit: DOMENICO AGASSO JR/Vatican Insider